All-Star cards may seem commonplace today, but it was a novel idea in the 1950s. Some of baseball’s greatest players of the post-World War II era were depicted on Topps All-Star baseball cards from 1958 to 1969.
While some of the early designs may have seemed mundane, the bigger-name players — particularly Mickey Mantle — are coveted for their value.
Topps had toyed with the idea as early as 1951 with its Major League All-Stars set, but the company did not give All-Stars a settled place in base sets until 1958. That year, Sport magazine put its name atop a 21-card subset and named its all-star team.
Using a vertical design for the all-stars, Topps went position by position. Card No. 475 showed the rival managers of the previous year’s World Series who would oppose each other in 1958 — Casey Stengel of the New York Yankees and Fred Haney of the Milwaukee Braves. From cards 476 to 495, All-Stars alternated by position, starting with first base and ending with left-handed starting pitchers.
National League cards featured the player’s image against a blue background and white stars. American League cards used a red background and white stars.
The card backs were surprisingly more detailed than those in the “main” part of the set. The card number was encased inside a black star; other cards in the set were enveloped inside a kid-like face (a baseball with stitches to indicate a smile) and a cap atop the ball, um, face.
Card backs trumpeted the fact that the player met the approval of Sport magazine. Statistics were broken down by team, showing how the player had performed against his league rivals. Six lines of type above those statistics explained why the player merited All-Star status.
Topps decided to stick with All-Star cards in 1959, but changed sponsors. The Sporting News took over, and its distinctive typeface headlined the top of the cards, which also sported a vertical design.
Like the 1958 set, the higher numbers were used for the All-Star cards (Nos. 551 to 572). For the 1959 subset, Stengel and Haney again were featured as managers — but they were put on separate cards this time. In a design reversal, the backgrounds for NL representatives switched from blue to red; the AL members now had red backgrounds. The position progression followed the same pattern as the 1958 set. Photos of players were framed inside what looked like shields; the NL shield looked to be five-sided, while the AL’s looked more like a policeman’s badge.
The bottom of the card backs was adorned with the logo of Bazooka (“Chew of Champions”), the Topps-owned bubble gum company. The main portion of the card back was dominated by a cartoon drawing of the player; some were good likenesses, while others were quite generic.
A comment was written next to each cartoon. Stengelese already was famous in 1959, as he was described as “the pennant winning genius who dotes on double talk.” Hank Aaron, it was noted, “was on his way to becoming one of baseball’s greatest right hand hitting outfielders.”
The dawn of the 1960s saw Topps All-Star cards revert back to Sport magazine as a sponsor. For the first time in 1960, Topps used a vertical design, which was in line with the design for the base set. Cut-out photographs of players (with thin silhouettes behind them) were positioned in front of the number 60 — the “6” was light blue, while the “0” was a light orange.
Managers were dropped from the subset (card numbers 553 to 572), but the position progression remained consistent. The card backs contained between 12 and 13 lines of descriptive type, and the cartoon drawings that would become a Topps staple during the 1960s began to emerge. Each cartoon had a main caption, while some had additional pithy comments, spoken either by the player or an opponent who happened to be included in the cartoon.
The pendulum of sponsorship returned to The Sporting News in 1961, as the All-Star cards again were in the high numbers section of the set. The card front design resembles a newspaper, and the player’s image “bursts” through in the center of the card. Big block letters at the top of the card tout the player’s name and position. There is no art on the back of the card; rather, a huge block of explanatory type, about 12 to 14 lines, is featured against a greenish backdrop underneath the player’s name.
Manager cards return, with Danny Murtaugh and Paul Richards the opposing skippers. Richards, who managed the Baltimore Orioles to a second-place finish in 1960, also was the AL manager in the All-Star Game. Casey Stengel, the pennant-winning manager of the Yankees who logically would have been featured on a card, had been fired after New York lost the World Series in seven games to Murtaugh’s Pirates.
The 1961 design is popular and they’re hard to find in high-grade. A complete run of 22, all graded PSA 9, sold in 2014 for $6,600.
For the remaining three years of all-star cards — 1962, ’68 and ’69 — The Sporting News was the sponsor. In 1962, All-Star cards were split for the first time. The NL stars (cards 390-399) were contained within Topps’ fifth series, while the AL cards (466-475) were in the sixth.
All-Star cards were omitted in Topps sets from 1963 to 1967, but it returned with a snappier, more streamlined design in 1968. The cards overlap the third and fourth series (No. 361-379) and use a clean, horizontal design. The Sporting News logo is set against a red backdrop for AL players and blue for the NL All-Stars.
The card backs formed a black-and-white picture puzzle, with two separate subjects — Carl Yastrzemski and Orlando Cepeda, the Most Valuable Player award winners in the American and National Leagues in 1967.
There also was a puzzle in the 1969 All-Star subset as The Sporting News selections spilled from Topps’ fourth series to the fifth. Instead of MVPs, the subjects were the leagues’ batting champions. That meant Yaz was a subject for the second consecutive year; he was the only AL player to break .300 that year (.301). Pete Rose made an appearance after winning the first of his three NL batting titles.
The design reverted to vertical for the 1969 All-Stars, with a red border around the AL cards and a green one around the NL cards. The player was featured in an enlarged color mug shot with a black-and-white action background.
Here are some of the key (and interesting) cards through from 1958 through 1969:
• 1958 Mickey Mantle, #487 sold for $124. 50 on Saturday night on eBay
• 1958 Ted Williams #485 graded PSA 7 recently sold for $81.78.
• 1959 Billy Pierce #572 graded at PSA 7.5 sold last month for $343.88.
• 1959 Mickey Mantle #564 rated SGC 96 (their finest graded example) sold in May for $2,629.
• 1961 Roger Maris #576 PSA 8 sold for $177 in early June.
• 1968 Roberto Clemente #374 at PSA 8.5 sold for $177.50 in May, but most–even in high-grade–are very inexpensive and available.
We’ll delve into post-1960s All-Star cards in a future article.